NASHVILLE, January 20 - As Shakespeare once wrote, “All’s well that ends well.” And so it was for Jorge Rivera, the MMA pioneer who ended his career on a high note Friday night at Bridgestone Arena with a come-from-behind win over Eric “Red” Shafer. The victory capped the 39-year-old Bostonian’s 15th and final trip to the Octagon.
Ever grateful, Rivera fought back emotions as he thanked God, the UFC and the inimitable voice of site coordinator Burt Watson for an incredible ride.
“It’s been a real nice trip,” said Rivera, whose pro record will rest at 19-9.
Fans at Bridgestone Arena showered him with chants of “Jorge! Jorge!” – many of them aware that Rivera’s toughness as a fighter is surpassed by his toughness as a father who also mourned the loss of a teenage daughter in 2008.
Rivera got off to a slow start in his farewell fight. Schafer, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, took Rivera down in the first round and held him there for most of it (despite inflicting little damage). In the second stanza, sensing that Schafer was battling through labored breathing, Rivera stuffed a single leg takedown and unleashed a hail of punches as Schafer turtled up beside the cage but did not answer the blows (despite referee Herb Dean repeatedly imploring him to “fight back.”). Hear what "El Conquistador" had to say about his big win - and his UFC career.
At 1:31, it was a wrap.
SHALORUS VS. NURMAGOMEDOV
“The Eagle” has landed, and his name is Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Making his debut in both the U.S. and the UFC, the highly-touted Russian upped his record to 17-0 with an impressive dismantling of the typically immovable object that is Kamal Shalorus. The Sambo standout dropped Shalorus in the first round with an uppercut to the jaw, then rained down punches but could not land the shot that would have sealed the deal.
Opponents rarely put Shalorus, a world-class wrestler who was born in Iran near the Russian border, on his back. But Nurmagomedov managed the feat several times. The last of those occasions was in the third round, when the Russian escaped a guillotine, passed guard and sank in a rear naked choke that forced the tap out at 2:08.
The win puts Nurmagomedov is elite company. The only other fighter to defeat or finish Shalorus is veteran lightweight Jim Miller. Get "The Eagle's" thoughts on his UFC debut.
BRENNEMAN VS. ROBERTS
Welterweight Charlie Brenneman tamed Daniel Roberts in his vintage fashion, using his Division I wrestling skills to repeatedly take down Roberts and pound him with punches on top en route to a unanimous decision win. For his part, Roberts threw a couple of scares into the Pennsylvanian, threatening his welterweight foe with two kimuras and a reverse triangle choke that lent some much-needed drama to the affair. But whenever trouble reared its ugly head, Brenneman survived due to gutsiness and the sound of the horn.
Judges scored it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 in favor of “The Spaniard,” a former high school Spanish teacher.
“I was able to exploit him on the ground, which I expected,” Brenneman said. Watch Brenneman's post-fight interview.
CAMOES VS. HAYDEN
Newcomer Thomas Hayden took control early in the standup realm against returning Fabricio Camoes, scoring with punches and forcing the veteran to switch to Plan B. Unfortunately for Hayden, his Brazilian adversary was able to turn the scrap into a ground war. After a slow start in round one, Camoes turned up the heat, using an oma plata and ankle pick to reverse Hayden and then take the Ohioan’s back. At 4:03 of round one, Hayden tapped out.
“I was a little surprised I trained for a left-handed guy and he was southpaw,” said Camoes (13-6-1), a lightweight who.
Camoes (13-6-1), who won his first UFC bout in three tries, gave praise to one of his mentors, Royler Gracie, who was recently awarded a prestigious red-and-black belt for his considerable contributions that helped advance both BJJ and MMA. Hear what Camoes had to say after the victory.
PINEDA VS. SCHILLING
97 seconds after running into Daniel Pineda, Pat Schilling is unbeaten no more.
Pineda (15-7) entered the bout confident that Schilling had never faced anyone of his caliber. So cocksure was the Texas featherweight, he threw caution to the wind and jumped all over Schilling early, and the latter never seemed equipped to stop the bullying. After slamming Schilling (5-1) to the mat, Pineda transitioned to mount and then took his opponent’s back, all the while loosening him up with punches. Desperate to escape the onslaught, Schilling stood up, but with Pineda serving as a backpack and managing to slip in a rear naked choke for the tap out. Watch Pineda's post-fight interview.
SANDOVAL VS. DENIS
Montreal’s Nick Denis, one of Canada’s most promising bantamweight prospects, calls himself “The Ninja of Love.”
Joseph Sandoval bore witness to the “ninja” part, but may be wondering “Where is the love?” after the 22-second blitz of destruction Denis exacted on him in their bantamweight contest to jumpstart the event.
Exactly how many punches Denis threw, I am not sure, but it seemed like every one of them landed. From the opening horn he tagged Sandoval (6-2, Lubbock, Tex.) with several crisp 1-2 combos and a hook for good measure. Then Denis (22-8-1) trapped Sandoval in a Muay Thai clinch, drilling him with four straight elbows to the head. Sandoval crumpled to the ground, and, just like that, a jubilant Denis paraded around the Octagon and celebrated his first Octagon victory.
“Actually my gameplan was eventually to take it to the ground,” Denis said, “but once I landed a couple of punches I know he didn’t react well, so I went for it and I finished it.” Hear what Denis had to say in the post-fight interview.